Arsenal still in top-four race but cannot afford to lose at Chelsea, says Paul Merson

Arsenal were in pole position for top four until defeats to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton left them three points off Tottenham in fourth; watch Chelsea vs Arsenal from 7pm on Wednesday live on Sky Sports Main Event and Premier League; kick-off 7.45pm

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In his latest column, Paul Merson says these are worrying times for Arsenal but a top-four finish is still achievable and warns they cannot afford to lose at Chelsea on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports.

Arsenal were in pole position for Champions League football until suffering three back-to-back defeats to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton which has left them three points off north London rivals Tottenham in fourth.

To make matters worse, the lack of depth at manager Mikel Arteta's disposal has been laid bare by injuries to Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey and Takehiro Tomiyasu, with Alexandre Lacazette now missing with Covid.

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But Merson feels there is a glimmer of hope for Arsenal ahead of what he calls a "make-or-break week" with games against Chelsea and Manchester United - the first of which is live on Sky Sports on Wednesday.

'Worrying defeats for Arsenal'

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Southampton’s win against Arsenal in the Premier League.

The problem with Arsenal's recent losing run is not the defeats. It's the teams they've been beaten by that's the issue.

Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton - no disrespect to those three teams - but Arsenal should be beating them if they want that top-four finish. Palace was a hard game, the way it fell, and Brighton have had two great results, but they have played these teams at the right time. They played Brighton when they couldn't win a game and also Southampton after a 6-0 thrashing.

That's worrying for Arsenal.

One positive is the way they played against Southampton. They did alright.

Fraser Forster just had one of those games for Southampton and for Arsenal, that wasn't the case against Palace and Brighton. It wasn't good enough from Arsenal.

But against Southampton, they should have got something from the game.

'Three straight defeats, but Arsenal still in top-four race'

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Brighton's win against Arsenal in the Premier League.

Arsenal are still in the top-four race.

This isn't a big game for Chelsea in terms of the league. Third is all but wrapped up for Thomas Tuchel's side. They are in the top four now.

If Arsenal go out and show something, they've got every chance at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea have had a hard week after their Champions League exploits and their FA Cup semi-final win. It might be a game where Tuchel rests a few players and Arsenal may just get a bit lucky.

'Arsenal don't have a natural finisher; goals are a problem'

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Crystal Palace's win against Arsenal in the Premier League.

As well as Forster played against Arsenal on Saturday, some of the chances were very bad misses from the forwards.

Arsenal just haven't got a natural goal scorer.

It's so hard to come by a natural goal scorer too. Manchester City haven't got one. You couldn't call Gabriel Jesus a natural goal scorer. He misses too many chances.

Manchester United do have one in Cristiano Ronaldo. Tottenham also have one in Harry Kane, but there are not many of them around.

Nothing really was said about Arsenal a few weeks ago. Everything was great, but now it's all 'they shouldn't have got rid of Aubameyang'. 'If Aubameyang was here we'd be alright'.

Graphic
Image: Mikel Arteta has a striker conundrum - who should he start?

Well, I don't think they would. I don't agree with those sentiments at all. However, the three defeats have shown that their problems lie with sticking the ball in the back of the net, and they have to work with what they've got to find a solution.

Despite the three defeats, they are still in the race for a top-four finish. They are 100 per cent still in it, and that's a positive Mikel Arteta can take.

Could Martinelli start through the middle?

Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with his team-mates after he scored his side's third goal (AP)
Image: Could Gabriel Martinelli be an option through the middle for Arsenal?

It'll be hard for Gabriel Martinelli [to start playing down the middle]. Against Chelsea, he'd be coming up against two of the best defenders in the business in Antonio Rudiger and Thiago Silva.

It's an extremely difficult call. I couldn't believe he turned to Eddie Nketiah at Southampton.

He has hardly played and then he's thrown into a must-win game. What chance does he have really?

People say Martinelli's the one, but he doesn't play up front. Why hasn't he been tried there?

It's hard to say where Arteta turns on Wednesday.

'No CL will be a disappointment for Arsenal'

Mikel Arteta shows the strain as Arsenal lose for the second time in a week
Image: Mikel Arteta has struggled to come up with a solution to Arsenal's struggles in recent weeks

Arsenal are still in this race, but they will do really well to finish in the top four now.

If they'd lost to Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City in the last few weeks you hold your hands up and you accept that they are just better teams at this time. That is a fact at the moment, and you just have to make sure you win games against the other teams.

They've lost to teams they should be beating. Fourth should be done now.

That will be their biggest disappointment.

From day one, I said Arsenal and Tottenham were not winning all their remaining games. When you watched Man City vs Liverpool the other week, it's different. With their quality, you know they could reel off seven or eight wins. That is not a problem for them at all. However, Arsenal and Spurs were never ever going to do that.

If you go back on Soccer Saturday, a long, long time ago towards the start of the season, I said Arsenal would finish in the top four.

Arsenal
Image: Arsenal have suffered three back-to-back defeats

The reasoning was that they were playing just one game a week for the majority of the season, and that is a massive advantage.

Everyone was also saying about Harry Kane, that it was a joke for him to be going to America to watch the golf. Spurs wouldn't have lost to Brighton if he'd stayed. That's just not true.

Other teams are going into Europe most weeks throughout the season. They are taking four- or five-hour journeys regularly for some of these European games.

So, playing once a week, I thought Arsenal had a chance. It's got to a stage now where really, from the position they were in, it'd be a disappointment if they don't get in.

Tottenham then getting in instead would make it even worse. That's the problem.

'Striker position hardest to fill in football'

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Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta says he expects Alexandre Lacazette to stay focused on playing for the club despite doubts about his future at the club.

The striker position is the hardest position in the world to get right in the transfer market.

We're looking at Man City and if they had bought Harry Kane everything would've been sown up by now, but it does look like they could still win the Premier League and the Champions League without a centre forward.

That's not the norm, in my opinion. Everyone needs a good centre forward.

Spurs are where they are because of Harry Kane, not just his goals but also his all-round play.

It's a difficult situation for Arsenal.

They went for Dusan Vlahovic, who was at Fiorentina. He ended up choosing Juventus, and that is where Arsenal are at. Juventus are as far away from winning Serie A as Arsenal are from winning the Premier League.

It's difficult. We can all say after the event that they should have done this and they should have done that, but four weeks ago we were waxing lyrical about them and how great it was going for Arsenal.

It changes very quickly, and it can change very quickly again.

Arsenal's game at Chelsea is an easier game than Spurs' game at Liverpool in a few weeks. Chelsea haven't really got anything to play for in the league whereas Liverpool are still going for the title.

Arsenal have to try and take advantage this week. They are big games against Chelsea and Manchester United, but two positive results and they could turn it all back around again.

'Semi-final win crucial for Chelsea'

Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Cesar Azpilicueta celebrate the 2-0 FA Cup win over Crystal Palace (AP)
Image: Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Cesar Azpilicueta celebrate the 2-0 FA Cup win over Crystal Palace (AP)

It was an important win for Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace on Sunday.

It keeps the season going for them.

I thought they were outstanding last week in the Champions League against Real Madrid. It was an unbelievable performance in Madrid and in the end, they got undone by one of the greatest passes of all time from Luka Modric. It was one of the greatest passes I've ever seen.

In the end, that was the only difference between the sides. Chelsea would have been through, and it would have been one of the greatest results of all time. That's how good Chelsea were on the night.

But, it was a night that ended in disappointment for them and they had to bounce back in the FA Cup, which they did.

Chelsea's Mason Mount celebrates scoring his sides second goal
Image: Chelsea's Mason Mount celebrates scoring his sides second goal

They were comfortable against Crystal Palace, and they are certainly a better team than Palace.

Arsenal have to show intensity against Chelsea. If they do, they have a chance because this game isn't a big game for them.

Merson praises 'amazing' Tuchel

Thomas Tuchel
Image: Paul Merson has praised the job Thomas Tuchel has done at Chelsea this season

Thomas Tuchel has done an amazing job at Chelsea, especially with everything that has gone on off the pitch.

They are 12 points behind the leaders Man City with a game in hand, but it all went a bit pear-shaped for them when Reece James and Ben Chilwell got injured within a week or two of each other.

They were flying at that time. They were unstoppable when those two were playing, ripping through teams.

You've got to look at that when you look at their failed title bid. It was a big moment losing those two players.

Tuchel is a top manager. Obviously, he has dealt with all the off-field stuff brilliantly, but before that, I thought he was already a top manager.

What he's done, the way he's done it and the way he has handled things like the Romelu Lukaku situation, everything like that has been amazing.

'Lukaku's not singing off the same hymn sheet'

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Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has backed striker Romelu Lukaku to rediscover his goalscoring form and says he just needs an extra spark to get going again.

Even when Lukaku came on in the semi-final on Sunday, he's just not in sync with what Chelsea are trying to do.

In the last five minutes at Wembley, the ball went across the six-yard box three times. They are three tap-ins, and he could have had a hat-trick. However, he's pulling out to the penalty spot and another one was easier to score than miss.

I just don't think he's singing off the same hymn sheet at the moment. It's just a situation where he's not in sync with his team-mates and it is showing on the pitch.

'Arsenal cannot afford to lose'

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Chelsea's win against Arsenal in the Premier League earlier in the season

It can be a tricky night for Chelsea.

It's a bigger football match for Arsenal. If they win at Stamford Bridge, they can go joint-fourth and put themselves right back in the mix for Champions League qualification.

It's a massive game and it is followed by another against Man Utd at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Two wins and they are right back in it. Man Utd would be out and Spurs also have to play Liverpool still. It can change very quickly.

Arsenal just cannot afford to get beat at Chelsea. They have to get a result.

They also play West Ham at a nice time as well, right in between the Eintracht Frankfurt games. We saw West Ham at Brentford, they are going to rest every player. That could be perfect timing for Arsenal.

It's a make-or-break week for Arsenal. They need a minimum of four points from these two games. If they can get that, it sets them up. They cannot afford to get beat at Stamford Bridge, especially with what could be a crucial north London derby against Spurs on the horizon.

Watch Chelsea vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 7pm on Wednesday; kick-off 7.45pm

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